Every January, the small Swiss town of Davos moves into the spotlight, as more than 2,500 leaders from business, government, international organisations, civil society, academia, media and the arts gather for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.
The theme of this year’s meeting is Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World, expressing the need to develop a shared narrative to improve the state of the world. This cannot be done in silos and calls for greater co-operation and collaboration between different stakeholders at a national and international level.
The image many have of a meeting of leaders of business and government is of a room filled with people aged 50-70, even 80 years old, discussing the narratives that will shape the world. But the decisions taken today will not impact their generation, they will impact young people.
Over 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 27. So if someone is going to decide to shape our future we, the youth, have to be part of that dialogue; a bigger part of this narrative of co-creating the future.
Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, realized this early on and founded the Global Shapers Community to empower young people to play an active role in shaping local, regional and global agendas.
With the largest youth population in history, there is an unprecedented opportunity for young people to take an active role in shaping the future. This generation has inherited enormous global challenges but has the ability to confront the status quo and offer youth-led solutions for change. They are today’s leaders.
Fifty Global Shapers from 376 hubs based in 156 countries are selected to represent the youth voice at Davos each year. These Shapers come armed with specific agendas to give youth the voice at Davos and to be an integral part of the dialogue that takes place at the Magic Mountain. The Forum provides them with a platform to make their opinions heard, with multiple speaking roles on panels over the four days of the meeting.
As a Foundation Board Member of the Global Shapers Community, I had the opportunity to attend Davos and can confidently say that we Shapers have a huge impact on the thought processes and decision-making that helps set the agenda for businesses, governments and civil society.
Here are some inspiring stories on the impact of having Global Shapers representing the youth voice at Davos over the past four years.
Sohara Mehroze Shachi, a Global Shaper from Dhaka Hub was able to hold accountable the Chairman of an oil and gas company about the negative impacts the fossil fuel industry is having on the planet and the dependence of the industry on government subsidies for survival, which the chairman acknowledged was unsustainable. She did a Facebook live interview with the head of a large NGO, which was viewed by over 70,000 people where they discussed some of the critical environmental issues of today and the urgent need for the engagement of private sector leaders, who have gathered at Davos, to safeguard the planet.
Kirk Hamilton, a Global Shaper from Jamaica Hub had the challenge of providing the context for discussions around issues facing the Caribbean in Davos 2016. It was a tall order considering he was the only attendee from the region, but he leveraged the opportunity and connected with several political leaders, prime ministers of countries and heads of media firms to promote the Caribbean narrative. He was representing more than 40 million people when talking to the leaders at Davos and was able to convert his talks into action, with affirmative next steps from several stakeholders to promote the Caribbean narrative at a global scale.
Fatima Muneer, a Global Shaper from Ottawa Hub was engaged, during a one hour Meet the Leader session in 2015, in a conversation with the then French President and a CEO of a technology company. She was sharing her views with them on how boosting diversity in the educational system from primary level would potentially promote tolerance of other cultures in a country in the long run. This prompted the CEO to tweet his views on Fatima’s vision for education, which was not just about STEM but also included culture, religion and diversity.
Michaella Rugwizangoga, a Global Shaper from the Kigali Hub was invited to a Davos 2017 panel discussion on “Leading in divided times". She joined an eminent panel to talk about Rwanda’s remarkable progress. The panel gave her an opportunity to highlight the progress made by Rwanda in fostering peace and rebuilding the society with remarkable results: such as 62% of women in parliament; national access to healthcare; and a 12-year basic education program. She spoke of how Rwanda is making strides and setting the stage for excellence in development. And who better to talk about progress than the youth who are experiencing those changes? After her talk, the audience felt a great sense of admiration and respect for Rwanda and the work done by its leaders.
Young people have immense power to become ambassadors for projects and can tell the story from an on-the-ground perspective. My suggestion to any leader who wants to showcase development or change is to listen to what the youth have to say about it. The passion and voice they can lend to the story of change is unrivalled.
Thoba Grenville-Grey is a Global Shaper from Johannesburg Hub who was invited to Davos to present a Declaration on the state and future of democracy. A co-author of the declaration, Grenville-Grey was born in London in 1992 to parents who had left South Africa having been exiled by the apartheid regime. Four years after the end of the regime, the family returned to South Africa. He always wanted to be a voice for the youth and in Davos, he was representing the young people of South Africa, unemployed youth, and young people from Africa as a whole; and spoke from an informed perspective, which came from his experience in using entrepreneurship to assist young Africans in getting jobs. He was able to nudge politicians and business leaders on what the right priorities should be and was able to push the agenda for the use of digital technology with government leaders at Davos.
These are just a few of the many stories of inspiration and action that the Global Shapers are able to drive at Davos. Some think Davos is only a meeting where the rich and wealthy get together, but it is, in fact, a place where world leaders meet with young people and get inspired to take action, working towards the common goals of a better and inclusive future, improving the state of the world we live in.
At Davos, the Global Shapers share and discuss the insights compiled from the Global Shapers Survey, which questioned over 31,000 young people in 2017, and prompted many world leaders to say how surprised they were at some of the results.
What really empowers these Shapers to share the stage with world leaders and nudge them into taking action? This is possible only because each of them has on-the-ground experience of working with communities at a grassroots level. They are changing the narrative of ‘youth as the problem’; they are, in fact, the solution.
The Global Shapers are an action-oriented community working on wide-ranging projects – from responding to disasters and combating poverty, to fighting climate change and building inclusive communities. They are diverse in their expertise, education, income and race, but are united by their desire to bring about change. And when you are empowered with grassroots knowledge, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with business and political leaders and advise them to do the right thing.
Professor Schwab conveys it in the best possible manner: “You are the first generation to face the impact of the decisions being made by your predecessors, and the last generation that can do something about it.” Armed with this mission statement, here are my three calls to action to all those who want to be accountable for our present and for future generations:
1. “I can do it!”
If you still think “Someone will do it”, wake up. We have to start shaping the world for future generations, and change has to happen within you first, with the belief that “I can do it”.
2. “Time is now!”
If you have the belief that “I can do it”, then the “time is now”. What are you waiting for?
3. “Together we are strong”
No one individual can shape the world but together we can. For together, we are a strong bunch that cannot be broken. The path is not easy, but when we work together we can achieve great things.